An Oak Tree


D.D and I had our first date at Tim Crouch’s The Author. It wasn’t exactly the best choice on my part, but we’ve been talking about it on-and-off since (both appalling date and enduring play) so something must have worked. And we were recalling this burgeoning, Tim Crouch inspired, ‘romance’ yesterday, for a friend and novelist, over pale ale in late September sunshine, before we all went to An Oak Tree at the Bristol Old Vic.

Seeing a Tim Crouch play with novelists always skews and confuses my reading; they’ll want to talk about the language and literary mechanics. They say things like ‘at a sentence by sentence level, Crouch’s writing…’ etc. And they may not focus on the work physically (ignoring, for instance, the awesomely experimental synecdoche; chair as child, pre-empting the hilarious object swapping in Adler and Gibb). They talk about contracts – the contract an artist establishes with their reader/spectator, and they’ll feel uncomfortable, perhaps, with the way this contract is almost the subject of Crouch’s work itself, rather than a device, as in novels, to establish, adhere to, and, most importantly, to forget.

But perhaps the biggest difference between a novelist’s interpretation and a frequent theatre spectator’s (and I generalise, gleefully) is that, for novelists, postmodernism is so dead. It happened, like, ages ago – maybe even starting with Naked Lunch, certainly having its apotheosis in the 80s, and very infrequently, producing tick box works of pomo now – such as A Visit to the Goon Squad. And hanging out with novelists certainly reduces how much you might rate a postmodern expression or two now. Today, contemporary prose fiction is all super David Foster Wallace-d. It’s post-postmodern. There might be metafiction, playful experimentation, and all the rest, but there’s also sincerity and realism and social comment. So I have to hide the fact I’ve re-read (and re-watched) Waterland this summer, instead of buying the new Franzen, and pretend that I agree that metafiction/theatricality is so over.

And I might vaguely try to explain that in theatre it isn’t the same. The death of the author, in fiction, might have happened in 1967, but, according to Dan Rebellato, the same movement didn’t reach theatre until the first decade of the twenty-first century and Lehmann’s Postdramatisches Theater wasn’t even translated into English until 2006 (though I’m not imposing a correlation on the theoretical concerns of each movement entirely, nor do I particularly agree with that analysis). But, the point is, experientially, there does seem to be this thing where, from one particular frame of reference, theatre is behind the aesthetic advances of another medium. But is the comparison necessary or useful? Probably not – so sorry for mentioning it.

So if you want a proper review of the year’s An Oak Tree, you should read Catherine Love’s – and I like her comparison with Ali Smith, something, bizarrely, we also talked about on the train home last night – particularly with reference to my fave Smith story, May, where a woman falls in love with a tree. It begins: ‘I tell you. I fell in love with a tree. I couldn’t not. It was in blossom.’

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